Aspiring like their male counterparts for pole position in Israel’s hi-tech revolution, an increasing number of women students are enrolling at IDC Herzliya’s Efi Arazi School of Computer Science
By David E. Kaplan
“I want to be part of changing the world and the way we live life,” says Liat Shaer, a student from South Africa at the IDC Herzliya’s Efi Arazi School of Computer Science. Such words would make the late Israeli hi-tech pioneer and visionary proud. Efi Arazi was a fearless larger-than-life role model who showed how to build global high-tech startups, long before the word high-tech was invented!
Israel has well earned the nickname “Startup Nation” for its outside-the-box entrepreneurship. With a population of approximately nine million, it has the largest number of startups per capita in the world – around one startup per 1,400 people. This “WOW” phenomenon increasingly catches the eye of companies with global reach and aspirations and preparing tomorrow’s leaders in this field are many of today’s students gravitating towards Computer Science.
Many more of them today – are young women!
This exciting trend is all too evident at Israel’s first and only private university – the IDC Herzliya – proud of its high percentage of female students studying at the Efi Arazi School of Computer Science.
From a high of 30% in the 2019-2020 academic year, it has risen to an unprecedented 37% in the 2020-2021 year.
Deputy Dean of the Efi Arazi School, Prof. Anat Bremler-Barr, attributes the increase in the number of women at the school to two main factors:
- Attracted by the availability of well-paid jobs – a global trend – in the field of Computer Science
- A successful outreach by the Efi Arazi School and IDC Herzliya to encourage more female students to enroll in Computer Science as part of a policy of supporting woman empowerment in the market place.
Not only are events held annually that are targeted towards encouraging women to join the school, says Bremler-Bar, but in addition, “30 percent of faculty members are women, a significantly higher percentage than in other universities, which helps attract more female students.”
Many of these are foreign students who are studying Computer Science in English at the IDC Herzliya’s Raphael Recanati International School.
Lay Of The Land spoke to some of these young women students to understand what steered then to a field once so dominated by men.
Liat Shear who matriculated at Yeshiva college in Johannesburg, South Africa, says she chose to study Computer Science as “an excellent degree which develops and teaches skills that are very relevant in 2021 and will continue to be so in the future. It allows its students to enter a wide variety of fields and prepares them for the many technological challenges being faced worldwide. For me personally as a woman, studying Computer Science will hopefully help change the perception of women in the STEM fields. I chose the IDC specifically as it is an international, world class institution located in Israel, which exposes me to many brilliant and renowned lecturers.”
She praises the opportunities it has provided in “helping me to meet peers and future colleagues from all over the world,” and plans after graduating, “to be part of one of the many Israel-based hi-tech companies that are changing the world and the way we live life.”
For Arora Attenborough from Melbourne, studying Computer Science or Entrepreneurship “never crossed my mind until coming to Israel. Growing up in Australia, I had always been passionate about technology and computers but, the importance of degrees in technology fields still hadn’t been fully recognised, and I originally thought I would most likely study Business. It wasn’t until I landed in Israel and started working in a Hi-Tech Company as an Executive Assistant, did I realise the importance of Computer Science and Entrepreneurship. From ‘Day 1’, I knew this was the environment that I wanted to work in.”
She says she is thankfulthat she was fortunate “to be able to see inside of both the roles of the Executives and the roles of the Software Engineers and the main thing that I deduced is that if I want to be successful in high tech I need to have the knowledge as a Computer Scientist and the skills of a good Entrepreneur.”
That is when she decided to study at the IDC Herzliya.
“Only when I started having discussions with my colleagues, mentors and friends about my degree choice did I fully realise that not one of my executive colleagues were female, and in 2 years of working in high tech, I had listened to hundreds of business calls, read over a plethora of different companies investor decks, and made coffee for many executives and not once did I meet or read about a female tech CEO. The realisation of diving into a male dominated sector and the challenge of becoming a leading woman in the tech industry is a big reason why I want to study Computer Science and Entrepreneurship so much.”
Imbued by the passion and the motivation she recognises within herself and her female Computer Science friends at the IDC, “I predict that very soon, smart and capable women will make a big impression on the technology industry, changing the way we see the high tech environment by bringing forth revolutionary companies and products.”
Another Computer Science student from South Africa but born in Israel is 22-year-old Stav Hazan, who moved to Johannesburg, at the age of twelve. “Throughout high school, I consistently pushed myself to work towards a degree that would take full advantage of my skills and intelligence, but I never actually considered Computer Science as a path that could do that. This is because I had always pictured myself doing something meaningful or revolutionary in the medical or biological field, without realising the strong and important role Computer Science plays in these areas. Now, the vision I have for my career is to contribute to the Biotech industry by working with startups that bring together AI technology and software developers with doctors and other major players of the medical field.”
Stav says she would like to use this stage at the IDC to “encourage young women not to be intimidated by the Computer Science field, or to be influenced by external opinions and cultural beliefs. I initially did not view Computer Science as the most meaningful choice out of potential scientific degrees, as I wasn’t fully aware of the power these skills would give me. When I joined IDC, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of the proportion of women to men in my degree, but my journey has been surrounded by the most driven and hard-working women, whether it be my good friends or the lecturers I am inspired by.”
A second-year Computer Science student originally from Boston USA, Ilana Sivan, says “Women are generally not encouraged to pursue STEM subjects at school, and if they find those subjects difficult, they are not encouraged to try harder but rather to change directions altogether.” Despite “more of the risk associated with studying Computer Science” Ilana says because of “the innovative and welcoming environment IDC,” the faculty encourages “us to try new ideas and forge new partnerships, and make us feel part of the community regardless of our gender.”
The words of these women students are inspirational and aspirational and well befitting the man whose name graces and characterizes the Efi Arazi School of Computer Science. In 1965, while studying at MIT, Efi Arazi designed a camera for NASA, which was used by the Apollo 11 space mission to transmit the first images from the moon. At the age of 25, Arazi invented a revolutionary auto-focus mechanism, thus cementing his position as one of the leading figures in the global electro-optic industry and upon returning to Israel in 1968, he founded the Scitex Corporation, which developed the first digital prepress computer and CCD scanner in the world.
Little wonder that Jonathan Davis, Head of the RRIS and Vice President of the IDC Herzliya, likes to refer to the Raphael Recanati International School as an “island of opportunities”.
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